When COVID-19 restrictions lift across Nova Scotia on Wednesday, many will remain in high-risk settings like hospitals and long-term care facilities.
The province announced changes Monday that include an end to both asymptomatic testing and mandatory isolation after a positive test result.
But health-care workers will still need to stay away from work for seven days if they test positive for the virus.
"If a health-care worker is symptomatic, they'll be encouraged or told not to report to the workplace, and to obtain a PCR test 48 hours after their symptom onset," said Angela Keenan, director of occupational health, safety, and wellness for Nova Scotia Health.
Keenan said the province's announcement only means a few small changes for work isolation protocols for health-care workers. Any employee unsure of their "COVID risk factor" should visit the NSH website to find the appropriate guidelines.
PCR testing will continue for health-care workers with symptoms, or those who live in a household where someone else has tested positive, but asymptomatic rapid testing will no longer be available.
Workers who have not received a booster dose of the vaccine and are in close contact with someone who has COVID will be required to stay away from work for 72 hours and can return once they receive a negative PCR test result.
Those with a booster dose can continue coming into work, but are still encouraged to get a PCR test after 72 hours to ensure there has been no transmission within the household.
Those close-contact protocols have been in place since April, when changes were made in an effort to get health-care workers back on the job faster amid widespread staffing shortages due to COVID-19 isolation rules.
"Our goal throughout the pandemic has been to prevent introduction of the virus into our high-risk settings, but also limit transmission. So health-care workers have always had, I'll say, a different rule book," Keenan said. "And it's because of the vulnerable patients and residents that we serve."
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While designated caregivers and visitors are no longer required to provide proof of vaccination, the vaccine mandate for provincial employees is still in place.
Keenan encourages all health-care workers to get a first or second booster dose as soon as they are eligible, though public health is advising people wait until fall to book their fourth dose.
Other protective measures, like masking and physical distancing, are still in place in high-risk settings. Keenan said it's likely those measures will continue for some time.
"We're continuing to closely monitor all of our services and ensure that we're providing quality patient care. The reality is that health-care workers are getting COVID, too. And it does affect our staffing, but it's something that we're monitoring on a daily basis," she said.
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